Friday, November 30, 2007

Here's trouble...

Well, my last post seems to have gotten me into a bit of trouble. That's fair I suppose, it was a crap article and badly worded, so I think I should quantify...

Bigotry. There you go. That's it, there's really nothing more. The problem with that story is that the bigotry sits on both sides of the fence and that's where my article fell down and completely buried itself. Notice how I absolved myself of any responsibility there? It's a bit like the car accident you hear about on the news where "the car tragically left the road and killed the driver", as if it's the car's fault, but no-one ever says anything about the dick-head behind the wheel that was so drunk he had to get help to open the car door in the first place. Sheez...

Anyway, the problem, I think, was in this passage here: The man obviously takes a very short-sighted view and seems to be looking on the wrong side of the fence for the bigots.

"Wrong side of the fence" was a very bad choice of words. "Both sides of the fence" would have been a better choice, although I doubt it would get me out of trouble here.

But as you can see from the example above, I take a fairly harsh view but realistic is how I like to think of it. But to continue the above example, let's say that the pissed idiot left some family behind. Of course, I can't help but think about how very sad it is that they've had to suffer that loss, but my next thoughts are that it's a good thing none of them were in the car with him, that he didn't take out any innocents at the same time and yes, that the roads are now just a little bit safer for the rest of us. That last bit is extremely harsh, but I also like to think that most people think this way. He didn't get me or anyone else, sorry for the family but hey, at least he won't kill anyone else. Very harsh indeed, but that's me.

And so it is with religious bigotry, except that it's much worse. When you bring religion into any argument the stakes are immediately raised because religion has the unfortunate effect of stifling rationality and common sense, we know this and we also know it to be unavoidable. It stifles these things so much in fact, that some are quite prepared to use their own children as weapons in the fight to bring their particular religion more prominence, and whether that fight is violent or subversive, whether it be in a country, a city or a suburb, makes little difference.

The subject of my previous post concerned the building of an Islamic school in a predominantly white, christian area. This time I'll make the race distinction because it makes little enough difference, I think. The local residents however, have complained and protested that they don't want it there. Mostly, as far as I can tell, the objections have been "because it's Islamic" which in Australia, is not what we call a "valid" reason. We are not allowed to discriminate on the grounds of race or religion so the law says that the Islamic council can build their school in what passes for Christian heartland in Sydney, if that's what they want to do. As a consequence, a protest has gotten nasty and a criminal act has been perpetrated at the site of the proposed school. And please bear in mind that at this stage, it's still only proposed.

Now, I don't have a problem with the law putting in it's 2c worth, but I do have a problem with the narrow mindedness and complete lack of common sense that everyone seems to be exhibiting concerning this issue. If the locals are turning this nasty and distasteful before it's even built, what are they going to do to the kids walking, riding their bikes, being driven, catching the bus, to and from that school.

Think about it is all I can ask. In a democracy, the majority doesn't have to be right, it just has to be the majority and this this case, I think the majority makes a valid point, just not for the reasons it thinks it does. This majority is obviously so blinkered and bigoted that it makes sense - good common sense - to think seriously about whether or not a school should be built where the kids might suffer insult, and to also consider why any Islamic community would continue to want to build a school there where it's their own kids that might suffer the insult. Would you willingly do that to your kids? I wouldn't.

I also think the pigs heads make it pretty obvious what sort of bigoted idiots we're dealing with here too. I'm of the opinion that they are just the kind that will hurl hurtful insults at an innocent child. Not only that, but they'd do it for no reason other than race or religion and they wouldn't bat an eye at the damage they caused.

My quoting of the Koran was to lend a Christian perspective to the bigotry displayed in the protest. It doesn't really matter whether it's Mohammed or Jesus though, this sort of bigotry should, by now, almost be expected. They share the driving duties on the bus of religious rationalism and as it was for the driver in my earlier analogy, their bus appears to be giving them serious difficulty...

Excellent stuff! Gimme more...

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Now who's telling porkies?

If it wasn't so serious it'd be laughable. More religious inspired madness due to islam from "The Age" but it's closer to home in Sydney this time. Actually, this one's probably more to do with kick backs and local government than it is to do with islam, but maybe I'm just being cynical, you decide.

Two pigs' heads have been rammed on to metal stakes and an Australian flag draped between them on the site of a proposed Islamic school in Sydney's south-west.

That doesn't sound to savoury, does it?

Officers quickly removed the offending items for forensic examination and established a crime scene.

But does it really warrant "forensics" and a "crime scene"? Last I looked, killing pigs wasn't an offence and if they try and make it one, I will protest most vociferously on the grounds that it would be a travesty for bacon and rib lovers everywhere.

But the reasons for this distasteful act become a little clearer as we move through the article:

Earlier this month, a thousand residents protested against it, with some saying the school would damage the area's social fabric.


The local council also received several thousand written objections during the planning approval process.

It seems that despite the protests of thousands of local residents, the council is keeping very quiet about its plans and the land is still “earmarked” for the school. The problem, I think, is that silence from the local council is so often seen as approval so the locals have finally gotten around to being a little more adamant in their protest. It‘s a bit harsh, I’ll admit, but if you ignore the letters and rallies, then you should probably expect trouble. There’s always a few that are willing.

But what really got me about this article was the comment from the Community Relations Commission’s Stepan Kerkyasharian:

The obsessive hatred of the mindless bigots who perpetrated this outrage is evidenced by their total disrespect of the ultimate symbol of our national pride, the Australian flag.

Every Australian Muslim would be offended by such a display, especially one involving the Australian flag.

The man obviously takes a very short-sighted view and seems to be looking on the wrong side of the fence for the bigots.

Of the unbelievers (which includes jews and christians) the Koran has many things to say, here are just few from Saura 2:

Verse 85: “God’s curse be upon the infidels!”
Verse 122: ”We shall let them live awhile, and then shall drag them to the scourge of the fire. Evil shall be their fate.
Verse 190-93: “Fighting is obligatory for you, much as you may dislike it. But you may hate a thing although it is good for you. God knows, but you do not.

And those are fairly mild by comparison to some, but there you go. God says “Kill ‘em ALL, I know what's best!” Pigs heads sort of pale into insignificance against that sort of rhetoric I think.

And for those that have been following my last couple of posts, you'll be extremely saddened to hear that Ms Gillian Gibbons was formally charged last night, with "inciting hatred and showing contempt for religious belief." Punishments include 6 months prison, 40 lashes or a substantial fine:

"Khartoum north prosecution unit has completed its investigation and has charged the Briton Gillian (Gibbons) under Article 125 of the criminal code," the Sudanese news agency SUNA said, quoting a senior Justice Ministry official.

Excellent stuff! Gimme more...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Double nuts to Mohammed

I had another one up here for a minute or two, but I've recently read this, at "the Age" again. What is it with all the nutbag stories there at the moment? The other one was about a protest over an islamic school in Sydney. Sheez..

Anyway, to the story at hand. You know how I made the assumption in my last post that Ms Gillian Gibbons was probably a pretty good teacher because she obviously had happy, confident students? Well it seems I was right not just about that, but also the circumstances surrounding it. It seems that Ms Gibbons used the teddy as a teaching aid. She'd devised a writing exercise where the kids took the teddy home and then wrote about what they did with it.

But it was young Mohammed that had the idea that they call the teddy bear Mohammed and now the poor kid seems to be a bit bemused and upset by the whole ordeal:

"The teacher asked me what I wanted to call the teddy," the boy said shyly, his voice barely rising above a whisper. "I said Mohammad. I named it after my name," he added.

Just as I thought, kids being kids:

He said he was not thinking of Islam's Prophet when asked to suggest a name, adding most of the class agreed with his choice.

Well it's hardly surprising in an islamic environment that the rest of the kids would agree with his choice, they probably all have family members who are named Mohammed, if they aren't themselves, so where's the problem?

Mohammad said Gibbons was "very nice" and he would be upset if she never came back to teach. He added Gibbons had not discussed religion nor did she mention the Prophet.

"We studied maths and English and spelling," he said, rubbing his mop of short, curly hair.

So there you have it. A perfect lesson in how to remove a good teacher and traumatise the kids she teaches, all in one fell swoop. But kudos to Mohammed's parents for having the guts to come forward and protest.

Excellent stuff! Gimme more...

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Nuts to Mohammed!

Either I have to stop reading "The Age", or religion has to go...

Just to show I'm not biased in my reporting of religious ridiculousness, how could you be, it's all ridiculous, here's one fresh from the Sudan:

A British primary school teacher has been arrested in Sudan, accused of insulting Islam's Prophet by letting her class of 7-year-olds name a teddy bear Mohammed, her school said yesterday.

Please note here that she did not name the teddy bear, yet she has ended up in jail.

What's happened here is that a teddy bear has turned up and being the caring teacher that she is she decided to let the kids have some fun and give it a name. Kids being kids, have all got together and decided that their favourite name is Mohammed, so that's what they'd like to name it. At this point, it's all good with lots of kids with big smiles which is just what any teacher worth her salt likes to see, the perfect result for the exercise at hand.

The next evening Ms. Gibbons was rudely interrupted by the police when she was arrested for having been accused of; "insulting the Prophet Mohammad". The media centre goes on to explain: It said charges were being prepared "under article 125 of the criminal law" which covers insults against faith and religion. You mean it hides the embarrassment you feel at believing in a ridiculously outdated, violent, bigoted, intolerant and lunatic concept such as islam, which is the only reason I can see for such laws existing.

Ms. Gibbons however, was only arrested because all of those kids went home happy and confident enough to tell their parents all about the fun they'd had that day. It was the parents that complained to the ministry and forced her to be arrested. Now think about that for a second and you'll see how twisted it really is.

Religion starts in the home. It was those same parents that took those same kids to the mosque and indoctrinated them with the name of Mohammed. It was those same parents that taught those same kids to revere the name of Mohammed. It was those same parents that taught those same kids that Mohammed is a hero and his life is the model on which you should build your own life. It is those same parents who will probably call their first born male child, Mohammed. Is it any wonder then that when a teacher says "what will we name this little teddy bear", that every kid in the class says "MOHAMMED!"

It's the parents that deserve the lashings here, not the teacher.

Excellent stuff! Gimme more...

Monday, November 26, 2007

Nuts anyone?

From "The Age" 26/11/2007:

TONY Blair has sparked controversy by claiming that religious people who speak about their faith are viewed by society as "nutters".

Well, that's as it should be, so what's the problem?

The former prime minister's comments came as he admitted for the first time that his faith was "hugely important" in influencing his decisions...

Oh I see, he's embarrassed about it. Well, that's as it should be too. But it seems the poor boy doesn't want to be embarrassed about it...

Mr Blair complained that he had been unable to follow the example of US politicians, such as President George Bush...

Hang about! I thought he did a pretty good job of following Georgey boy around while he was ensconced at No. 10, at least he seemed to. being open about his faith because people in Britain regard religion with suspicion.

Oh I see, he wants to be able to use his office to evangelise, or am I reading to much into this?

Peter Mandelson, one of Mr Blair's confidants, said the former premier "takes a Bible with him wherever he goes" and reads it last thing at night.

There you go. The man's a complete nutbag, so that pretty much explains it. He would like to evangelise, is using his current celebrity to do so, albeit in a circumspect manner and he would like to have been able to use his previous office to do the same thing, or so it would seem. Shame on you Mr. Blair and big well done to the British for having a general attitude toward religion that precluded him from doing so.

But the article continues:

His comments.....have been welcomed by leading church figures, who have warned of the rise of secularism pushing religion to the margins of society.

If that's true (I'm not a Brit, my mum is so I take an interest), another well done to the British people, please keep up the good work and set us colonials a good example. But I don't see any need for warning here, do you? A warning generally means there's some kind of danger, if lower crime rates, less teen pregnancy, less transmission of STD's, etc is the result (see here), then what's the problem? Well there's more:

The Most Reverend John Sentamu, Archbishop of York, said: "Mr Blair's comments highlight the need for greater recognition to be given to the role faith has played in shaping our country. Those secularists who would dismiss that faith as nothing more than a private affair are profoundly mistaken in their understanding of faith."

Give me a break. A greater need to highlight some completely sordid history of bigotry, state sanctioned violence, witch hunts, heretical crimes and the various torturous pass times of some of the "greatest" popes and kings? I don't think so. And I hate to have to remind the old boy but we don't so much regard it as a "private affair" as a complete lunacy.

Now I'm as reasonable as the next man and I'm quite happy to admit that when I became an apostate I felt just a little embarrassed at having been duped all those years, not mention a little annoyed at all the wasted time, effort and money, so I can understand Tony's dilemma. But let me reassure him, and any other bishops or clergymen that may read this, that the secularist community will welcome you without so much as a hint of scorn, there really is no need to be embarrassed at all. I can say from personal experience that there is only one group that will ridicule and insult you for your decision and it will include but will not be exclusive to, the congregation of the church you once attended.

Excellent stuff! Gimme more...

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Bennelong time...

Since the incumbent Prime Minister has lost his seat in an election (see what I did? Damn I'm funny...). Nearly 80 years they said, so I thought I'd do a little digging and see if I could find the history and lo and behold, I learned something new.

The last time it happened was in 1929. The Prime Minister was Bruce, Stanley Melbourne, Viscount of Melbourne and he lived from 1883 - 1967. He was Australia's eighth Prime Minister, a decorated war hero and came to be Prime Minister in 1923, our second youngest at the age of 40.

It happened because after the 1922 election, Hughes couldn't form a majority and the Country Party had refused, yet again, to form a coalition so Hughes recommended Bruce for the job. Bruce was a shrewd politician and managed to concede 5 of the 11 portfolios to Sir Eagle Page who was then quite happy to see the merit of a coalition between the National Party (currently called the "Liberal Party") and the Country Party (later to become the "National Party"). So it was that the first priority of Bruce's incumbency was maintaining the coalition.

His entire incumbency was plagued by industrial relations issues though. He wanted to build a federal system of arbitration and he didn't like unions at all, so much so that he applied to have a few of them decommissioned. He had so much trouble in this area that the Nationalist premiers (his own party) got together in 1928 and agreed to "insist on the Commonwealth vacating the field of arbitration." His solution was a complete back flip and a bill to abolish the Commonwealth Arbitration Court, which upset quite a few within his party so he offered to stand aside for Latham. Latham insisted that the bill go forward but the damage was done and on October 22 the following year (1929), Bruce ceased to be Prime Minister because he lost his seat.

So there you go Johnny. You should have looked a little further back, past Menzies which is obviously where you got stuck, and learnt a little about your own party's history. It looks to me like there's almost a correlation between draconian industrial relations policies and the current incumbent losing his seat.

Excellent stuff! Gimme more...

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Election Time

And I’m a bit annoyed about it too. Dikkii beat me to it with an excellent round up, so if you’re interested in Australian politics, part1 is here and part 2 is here and they’re well worth the read. But I’m gonna have my say anyway, despite that he’s done it better already! There’s one thing he didn’t mention for the international visitors though and that is our major parties orientations. In this country, “Liberal” means “Conservative” while “Labor” means “Socialist (almost…)”. So our Liberal party is the equivalent of the Tories or Republicans while Labor is the Labour or Democrat equivalent.

So, we are about to have an election in this country and if there’s one thing that really annoys me, it’s politicians blathering on about how good they are. Seriously guys, your professional lives are on the public record, we know it isn’t true!

But the hustings are a marvellous place. On any given day throughout the election proceedings you will be regaled with tails of woe and tails of joy. Generally though, it’s tails of woe which revolve around one of two things depending on who you are; the damage the current incumbent has done over the past umpteen years or the damage the opposition will do, should they gain a majority. I’m sure that anyone reading this, anywhere in the democratic world, is familiar with the story.

So for the past six weeks or so we’ve had to endure the likes of Howard, Rudd, Brown, Costello, Gillard, Abbot, Swan, etc, telling us all about how good they are and how bad their respective counterparts are. It’s a game of “tit-for-tat”; “We’ve done this (good) and they’ll do that (bad)” or “They’ve done this (bad) but we’ll do that (good)”. More often than not, it’s reminiscent of the school yard. Sometimes I wonder why we don’t just have a farting competition and decide it that way. I reckon the result would probably be the same. Oh yeah I forgot, methane’s a green house gas...

So what are the issues? Well it doesn’t really matter where I live. I’m in the seat of Lalor (pronounced Lawler, for all you philistines out there) which is Labor heartland and Julia Gillard (bless her little cotton socks) will probably be returned with an even bigger margin than last time, if that’s possible, and I’ll be helping to make that happen. I also harbour a secret hope that she’ll become our first woman Prime Minister, but I think I’ll have to wait a little while now that Rudd’s got a strangle hold on the party, we’ll see. That said however, there are a couple of things I’ll touch on and “Workchoices” gets top billing.

Workchoices is an insipid policy that must be relegated to the dustbin in all possible haste. I’ve met many a worker at my local that has lost penalty rates and/or overtime and is now finding it difficult. Some have even stopped attending the local in favour of making the mortgage payment and some have lost their homes. Of course, the statistic those guys fall under is the “interest rate rise” statistic but make no mistake, in at least two cases I know of, interest rates meant nothing compared to the night shift penalties. As an example, my current penalty is 30% (I do 12 hour shifts, 24x365 which means I don’t get public holidays and I work 2 out of 5 weekends) but I could lose that at any moment should my employer decide to risk the fairness test, which they can’t afford to do so I’m pretty safe. But that’s a whole one third of my wage and if I lose that, I lose my house.

Education. Why the hell we don’t have a national standard is beyond me. I had a little email confrontation with Ms. Bishop (who has been very quiet during this campaign) not so long ago and she didn’t want to go there. That seriously disappointed me seeing as how she’d just waded into the debate with about $110million worth of funding. 25% of that funding went to the private sector too, which I happen to think is an absolute disgrace. Organisations run for profit should not be entitled to my tax dollars, especially when so much work is needed in the public sector.

But come Saturday evening, I think there’s going to be a major reallocation of seating arrangements in both houses (see Dikkii’s post for an excellent explanation of our parliamentary system). Hopefully the senate will end up with a Labor majority by preference of the Greens and the odd independent. The Labor party doesn’t allow it’s members to cross the floor and expels those that do but we need that ability, especially in the senate. I’m hoping that Family First and the Christian Democratic Party get what they deserve which is nothing, and I also hope to see the end of Pauline as a politician. She makes a much better celebrity I think and besides, she dances pretty well for an old tart.

Excellent stuff! Gimme more...

Saturday, November 17, 2007


Damn! And here was I all geared up to play some Call of Duty that's COD4, which is all new and better than good, and Sean goes and tags me. Oh well...

To the rules:

  1. Describe my earliest memory where the memory is clear, and where "clear" means I can depict at least three details.
  2. Give an estimate of my age at the time.
  3. Tag five other bloggers with this meme.
My earliest memory is getting told off for getting back in the pool after mum had gotten me ready to go out.

It was a canvas wading pool, set up under the clothesline and the clothesline had an old canvas tarp draped over it to keep the sun off the pool, or more to the point, off the kids that were in it. Mum dragged me out, gave me a right royal bollicking, got me dressed, again, then bundled me into our red and white FC Holden to go wherever it was we went. I was about 2 at the time.

I tag: Dikkii, Psychoatheist, Mister Jebs Blog (Tina), The Honest Doubter & Tomsheepandgoats

Excellent stuff! Gimme more...

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

ATB 2007

As I rode my bike today it occurred to me that I'd been remiss in mentioning this year's Around The Bay In A Day.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with it, it is a charity event for the Smith Family and you can do the 50km (31 miles), 100km (62 miles), the "Classic" 210km (130 miles) or the "Legends" 250km (155 miles), taking in the scenery around Melbourne, Australia's beautiful bay. The city is the starting point and you ride down one side of the bay or the other, to either Queenscliff or Sorento, catch the ferry across to the other side, then ride back to the city. We do the 210km and it takes about 8 hours.

Anyway, here's the crew (I'm second from the left in the front row). We're "Team INVESCO" because the company my mate works for, pays our entry and provides the gear we're all wearing and we get ourselves sponsored for the Smith family. We have to raise $250, so go here if you want to donate to my cause (my jersey number was 4755). Anyway, that photo was taken at about 5:30am, just before we embarked on our journey. No, I didn't forget my helmet this year, so we got there in time to be included in the team photo.

This journey can be a journey in more ways than one. Just because the Tour de France has a stage this distance almost every day, doesn't mean that this distance isn't totally gruelling for average cyclists like most of us.

We started out fresh and chirpy and made good time down to the Bridge, which is one of the really groovy things about this ride. It's the only time you get to ride a bicycle over the West Gate Bridge, so it's best to make the most of it. It's also an easy climb with a fantastic descent that just begs to be used for a coasting race.

The most amazing thing about the bridge this year was not the fact that I won the coasting race down the other side, that was to be expected because I've been working on my technique (I can lay on the cross bar without losing control now), no, it was the one legged guy we caught up to about half way up. He wasn't wearing a prosthetic either, just peddling away with one leg. How amazing is that? He made it around no worries too apparently, despite the heat. It doesn't surprise me though given the size of the calf muscle he was sporting. Methinks he's done it before.

Anyway, It was a fantastic morning and we had a fun ride down to Geelong. We weren't late so we stuck with the bunch, took our time and chatted with whoever we found ourselves riding with. A quick relief break at Altona and then on to Little River where I had to stop for a smoke. A man can only go for so long on caffeine alone after all. Then it was on to Geelong where I had to wait for my 15 year old niece who was with us this year. We had a nice long break there where we all topped up with some energy food (I use "Goo" with caffeine, or preferably 2x caffeine. I recommend the "Espresso Love" flavour) and then it was on to Queenscliff.

The day had started to warm up by this stage and my niece began having difficulty. She was carrying a knee injury and about halfway between Geelong and Queenscliff took avail of the "sag wagon" to get a ride back to Geelong and get picked up by her mum. Next year perhaps.

We eventually made it to Queenscliff where we stopped for a quick lunch and to wait for the ferry. It wasn't long before we were on it though (as you can see) and an hour or so later we arrived in Sorento .

Now Sorento's a lovely place, I know, I've spent many a holiday down there. But I have to tell you that the water is complete shite! It's very heavy water as it is so it has that stale taste anyway, but do they have to chlorinate the absolute crap out of it? I'm glad I had some Gatoraid to add to it to make it bearable.

After stopping at Dromana to replace the plain water we were carrying (along with every body else), we made it up Balcombe Hill, over the rolling hills to Mt. Eliza and down Oliver's Hill into Frankston. We'd been separated by a set of lights, so my two compardres were waiting for me in Frankston.

There we had a quick smoke then continued on to Mornington where I had to stop and fix a puncture because some fool had scattered drawing pins on the road. Once that was done it was onto Beach Road for the last hour home.

Now bear in mind that I'd been on the bike for 7 hours already and it was 31 degrees Celsius (88F). So it was at this point that the rest of my body really started to protest, along with my legs; they'd been at it since we climbed the hill. But this is what I meant earlier about it being a journey in more ways than one. This last hour is a journey of discovery for yourself. You know there's a sag wagon that'll happily take you home, and you know that it hurts. You also know that it won't kill you if you keep going and that the whole point of doing this thing is to do it all.

But I eventually rolled into town at about 5:00pm. We completed our 210km in about 8.5 hours, time on the bike. For pictures of me in action, go here...

Excellent stuff! Gimme more...

Monday, November 12, 2007

New Affiliations

Join the best atheist themed blogroll!
There are two new affiliations you may notice on this page. Firstly, I've been accepted by Mojoey and have been added to the Atheist Blogroll. If you have an atheist/agnostic oriented blog and should want to get your name on there, click the image or the link and away you go...:)

image You may also notice a big red "A". That's for The Out Campaign. Basically it's a call for atheists to "come out of the closet", as it were. It's a Dawkins initiative and he maintains a blogroll. Once again, if you're blog is of that ilk, please join by clicking the link or image. Have a poke around while you're at it, it's all good...:)

Excellent stuff! Gimme more...

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

I don't know!

Is it really such a difficult thing to say? I say it all the time. I have an issue with believing that something is true if I have no verifiable evidence on which to base that belief. Somehow it just doesn’t sit well with me. I guess I have a fear of being called gullible or something, but it seems to me that believing or saying that something is true just because someone else said so, is how innocent people get themselves into trouble.

But this need for evidence I have burns especially bright for any theory or hypotheses that seeks to explain my existence or to provide a reason for it, and there are two things that try to do this. One is an hypotheses, one is a theory. As you can see, they are very different things.

The hypotheses is God. In this hypotheses, it is postulated that a thinking, caring God of some kind is the ultimate creator, who created the universe and everything in it, as it is, in all it’s complexity. This hypotheses has enjoyed a very long and sordid history and at times has included such claims and ideas as the sun revolving around the earth, the planets being ordered in crystal spheres, that a vacuum cannot exist because God fills every space, and many others besides. Many of these ideas are ridiculed today by even the most ardent followers of the God hypotheses, and that is as it should be. Discoveries have been made after all, that leave no doubt that some of those claims have absolutely no grounding in any evidentiary fact, so continuing to believe them to be true, now that we can freely observe that they are not, is no longer an option.

The God hypotheses however, still enjoys it’s extremes; from those who believe that the earth is less than 10,000 years old, to those who believe that the geological time scale of billions of years only helps to show God’s majesty and wonder. It also enjoys a vociferous movement formed from both extremes that believe that the complexity we find in the cosmos, on earth and in particular in biology, proves the existence of a creator or designer beyond doubt. And of course, there are some followers of the God hypotheses, few though they be, that disagree with this idea. In this respect it is just like any other form of academia.

But no matter which position is taken on God, this hypotheses tries to explain the reason for my existence in terms of me having a spirit or soul that has an eternal existence after the death of my physical body, spent in one of two places, rejoicing or suffering, depending on the choices I make during this life. It even goes so far as to call me unworthy, which is a question I find interesting. How do I attain something I’m unworthy of? Oh I see, through Jesus...

Anyway, I call this one an hypotheses because there is very little, if any evidence to support it. The bigger part of the body of evidence that exists for this hypotheses consists of a collection of very old books called “The Bible”. The individual books themselves were written at various times throughout history, with the earliest dating to around 650 - 635bce, the latest to about 96 - 120ce and they contain very little evidence that’s actually testable or verifiable. As a consequence of that lack (and my being unworthy), I find it very difficult to believe that this hypotheses has any merit at all.

The theory I spoke of is this thing called The Theory of Evolution. It doesn’t seek to explain exactly what might happen (or not) after our physical bodies cease to function as living, breathing, cognisant entities. It doesn’t even seek to explain about how life actually got kick started in the very first instance, but it does seek to explain, using a process called “Natural Selection”, how life came to be how it is today and why we are the way we are.

Basically, the theory of evolution says that anything can happen; that is that genetic mutation occurs in a random manner. Some mutations are good and aid an organism in survival, others are bad and do not. Natural selection ensures that only the good or workable mutations survive by ensuring that the bad ones die. It’s a very simple and elegant process, if seeming to be a little cruel.

That doesn’t mean to say that things don’t go wrong. In fact if things didn’t go wrong, evolution probably wouldn’t occur very often. It’s things like the introduction of a new competitor for a preferred food source, the introduction of a new predator, population pressure, etc, that cause evolution. When an organism senses pressure to adapt or die, it generally adapts. Syphilis is a good example. What, to a native American was a childhood disease consisting of a mild and fairly short lived skin irritation, became a deadly STD in Europe within a decade or two of Columbus bringing it back. That happened simply because syphilis could not survive on the surface of the skin in the European climate. So what did it do? It adapted and evolved so that it could survive in warmer, darker and damper areas of the body. Natural selection then ensured that in Europe at least, the skin infection version of the disease died out. It’s still the same organism though. So close to the original in fact, that if you’ve had the skin infection, you will be immune to the STD.

We know all this because scientists have applied some imagination and a lot of thought to the matter and verifiable evidence has been provided that proves the claim. The entire process of evolution, from the very beginning until now can also be easily explained in these terms.

So here we have a theory. It is a theory because it seeks to explain itself by providing tangible evidence. I don’t need to make any gargantuan leaps of faith and simply believe it because Charles Darwin or Richard Dawkins said so. No, I can take their claims and test them. I can go out in the field and dig up the remains of a primitive life form then look at it’s modern counterpart and see with my own eyes what changes have occurred over time. I can see, if I’m inclined to look, that the complexity of life I see around me came about quite naturally and by necessity. In short, I can satisfy myself that what we have here is a workable solution and a theory that has merit. Some may ask; “Don’t you think it’s a little unrealistic that all this has come about by chance?” to which I will answer “Yes, indeed I do.” There is no chance at all involved with evolution. You either make the right decision or you die, there is no middle ground and it is no accident that you live or die by your decision.

Another thing about this theory is that it makes no allusions to anything other than the physical world in which we live. What happens after our bodies cease to function is that we cease to be as individuals, and our bodies become fertiliser that helps nourish the next generation. So it seems that our sole purpose for being here and being as we are, is to procreate. Personally, I happen to think that the continuance of the species is a rather noble cause. Good enough to die for even… Eventually.

The very best thing about this theory however, is that it's a theory. It’s a theory that belongs to the scientific world, which of course is why it tries to explain the world in scientific terms. But being a theory means that it might also be completely wrong. That is as it should be, simply because it’s a theory. But in order to prove a theory as untenable, you need to have another, more tenable theory to replace it. As yet, no such theory exists.

Those that say that the God hypotheses is the real alternative, I think, are mistaken. God to me is a philosophical position, and to try and use a philosophical position to explain the world in scientific terms is pure folly.

Theology, which some might call the science of the God hypotheses, pretty much boils down to a human analysis of various stories, which in turn were written by humans, using no particular formula for that analysis. In these stories things often happen that seem highly improbable (and largely impossible) when the laws of physics are applied, yet we are extolled to “believe” that they are true. The words themselves are all that’s offered as proof, so how can I believe them when the very words themselves beggar belief?

There’s one other thing that really bugs me about the God hypotheses. There’s a book to tell you all about it, yet it seems that almost every single sentence in it needs interpretation. Theologians, preachers and laymen alike will quite often read you a passage of perfectly good English, only to tell you “Now what that really means is this...” and go on to say something completely different. It’s baffling. It seems to me sometimes that what christian theology really seeks to ask is this: “What if all the words that are written in the bible actually mean something else entirely?”

Excellent stuff! Gimme more...

Saturday, November 3, 2007

The Irony Of It All...

Alright, I'm back! And I was having such a lovely break from it all. It's all the fault of those so called Witnesses! This time they did more than just insult my intelligence, as religions in general are want to do. I'm used to that and it holds no surprise for me. No, this time they've also offended my sensibilities and outraged what scant intellect I have, which being as scant as it is, is not an easy thing to do. There will be no prisoners this time, and definitely no cake or bikkies when they come back for the promised cuppa, of that you can be assured!

What did they do to me, these dastardly practitioners and purveyors of woo? Well, some may remember the rant I posted as a birthday present to myself earlier this year. I complained at the time that the buggers never seem to come back after one of our little chats but I must stand corrected, apologise and take back everything I said on that score because earlier today, I answered the door to none other than the very same lady who was here my birthday last.

Today however, the conversation took a slightly different turn. She had another woman with her, her husband was nowhere to be seen, and this lady took a particularly haughty tone. But the tone of our conversation is not the reason for my chagrin. As I said, I'm used to that from your more religious folk (having been a particularly obnoxious one myself, I'm sure), nor is it the subject of today's missive. No, today's missive concerns a particular tract that was handed to me, which I reached for with trepidation, lest it be exactly what I thought it to be.

The picture on the little book she held up is awe inspiring. It's that wonderful Hubble image of the gas pillars in the Eagle Nebula (referred to sometimes as "The Pillars Of Creation") giving birth to stars. Spectacular stuff indeed. But then I saw the title and the way it was laid out:

"Is There a
Who cares about you?"

"EEK!" I thought. "Intelligent Design! And on my very doorstep! AAAaaarrrrggggghhhhh!!!" It was a near thing, I freely admit, but I managed to hold my composure and didn't run screaming from the scene, though I was sorely tempted to do so. No, despite the fact that they came in hard this time, firing questions and offering some of the best religious indignation I think I've ever seen in response to answers, I managed with polite indifference to refuse to entertain any more conversation concerning "ultimate truths", or that "fulfilled prophesy proves the bible correct" (that's the Charles Taze Russell version of the bible, not the original), and then invited them back for a cuppa and a chat in a week or so, once I've had a chance to review their little book.

So off to my office I went where I opened the book to an explanation of what an artist meant by the title of his painting, which of course by all accounts is nothing like the meaning the artist himself actually attached to it - Paul Gauguin "Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?". After this though, we get to the inevitable quotes. We'll see if you can guess who this one belongs to. The clue is that as usual, it's out of context because they've conveniently reworded it and neglected to print the rest of it: "The man who regards his life as meaningless is not only unhappy but unfit for life." That's just way to easy. But then there's some stuff from psychologist Prof. Viktor Frankl, who during his stay in various concentration camps, Auschwitz included, extensively studied human suffering and how people manage to deal with it and survive it. He developed Existential Analysis and Logotherapy as a result of those studies and concluded that "meaninglessness can only be overcome by creating one's own values and meanings" which on the face of it, does not appear to have much at all to do with any god or creator. He was also fond of that previous quote BTW, the full and correct version, not the Charles Taze Russell version.

Anyway, once I felt that my affronted sensibilities had had sufficient time to cool and I had prepared myself for more of the same, I turned the page and found that tired old canard, the argument from irreducible complexity. There was no time for my sensibilities to be affronted this time, my scant yet feisty intellect quickly took over. "The universe is sooooo big and sooooo complex, there's no way that a chance explosion could have created all this out of nothing." I grieve for the current state of our education system when I meet people who can believe this drivel. It saddens me deeply.

Despite my grief however, the irony of my situation precludes my being to upset. Happily I've only just finished reading the chapter and researching the links in Richard Dawkins excellent book "The God Delusion", that deals with this particular argument and I am now quite familiar with it and it's stupidity.

So, for those creationists and other proponents of ID out there that still don't get it, here are just a few things for you to consider:

1. The premise of your argument is this: "Complexity REQUIRES design": Organisms that are complex enough that we cannot conceive how their individual parts evolved separately to form the whole - Where we cannot find intermediary steps that show a clear path of evolution - implies that the whole was created together and therefore, this MUST imply the intervention of an intelligent designer.

I'd contend that I could just as easily say "See? It must be magic" and be just as correct. But this is what I like to call a re-entrant conundrum. It means that the designer has to be complex enough to design the complexity which REQUIRES that he/she/it must also have been designed, which in turn requires the intervention of a designer, ad infinitum. As you can see, it isn't long before we observe the effect such as in a hall of mirrors, with creators stretching off in all directions, each into infinity. The presumption of an ultimate designer is an impossible and indefensible position and simply put, this is not a workable solution. Please see natural selection for something that actually works.

2. That the universe was created out of nothing by "the big bang" must be wrong. How can you create a universe out of nothing?

Well I know that I can't... But as we know, attempting to disprove a theory is not an issue. It is in fact a basic principle and a requirement of the scientific method, if the method is applied correctly. But in doing so, please try and understand at least some of the basic tenets of the theory you are trying to disprove or in this case, ridicule. Check the link above for a simple explanation of the theory that we call, erroneously I might add, "The Big Bang". Almost as soon as you begin reading you will discover that no one ever said anything about the universe being created out of nothing.

3. Science has no idea what went before "the big bang" or what exists outside the universe.

Correct! And as yet, we have no way of knowing, so what's the big deal? It seems to me that it's just to difficult for some people to say "I don't know". Besides, considering that we can only exist inside this universe, such as it is, it's largely irrelevant. But that's where pseudo-sciences like creationism and intelligent design really come into their own. Anything that seems sufficiently complex and which as yet has no provable or demonstrable explanation - or anything that is largely irrelevant - is where the god of creation, or more properly put, "the God of the gaps" does His best and only work.

Excellent stuff! Gimme more...

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